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Medical Marijuana Advocates Look To Ballot For Legalization

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Some Ohioans are trying to gather enough signatures to put an issue on the statewide ballot, probably next fall, that would allow the use of medical marijuana in Ohio. But at least one Ohio lawmaker doesn’t think they should have to do that. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Democratic State Representative Bob Hagan isn’t a johnny come lately when it comes to medical marijuana. He’s been pushing bills for years now that would allow Ohioans to use cannabis under medical supervision. And he’s back at it again. He’s proposing a plan in the legislature that would allow Ohioans to use it under a doctor’s care and would allow Ohio farmers to grow hemp. And Hagan thinks most Ohioans agree the time has come for the change.

Hagan: "Just this month, FOX News published the results of a nationwide poll that shows an overwhelming majority of registered voters, 85%, agree adults should be allowed to use cannabis for therapeutic purposes if a physician authorizes it. Those numbers also carry out in Ohio where a recent Ohio poll said 73% of adults favor allowing medical marijuana."

Hagan’s bill is not likely to go anywhere at this point and he knows it. So he’s also backing the group that wants to put the issue on the ballot.

John Pardee is the president of that group.

Pardee: "Our citizens are telling us they can’t wait. They need relief and they need it now."

There are people who find cannabis relieves pain, nausea, and seizures associated with certain illnesses. And in some 20 other states, they can use medical marijuana, under certain circumstances, with a prescription from a doctor.

Don Wirtshafter is the attorney for the group that wants to put the issue on the ballot. He says it’s a shame that a ballot issue, which will take time and money, appears to be necessary to allow prescription cannabis use in Ohio. But he says THC, the active ingredient in the herb, is on the federal schedule of controlled substances.

Wirtshafter: "The problem is when they put a natural substance on that schedule because it takes about 100 million dollars worth of research to get a substance off the schedule of controlled substances. And a natural product has no company willing to spend that money because since it can’t be patented, there’s no way to get that return on investment. Natural substances have no business being on the schedule of controlled substance and really the only way you are going to get a plant off the schedule of controlled substances is politics. It was politics that put it on the schedule of controlled substances. It’s politics that has to take it off."

Hagan is correct in his assessment that there is still staunch opposition by fellow state lawmakers to the idea of allowing medical marijuana in Ohio. Republican State Representative Lynn Wachtman says he’s not for Hagan’s bill….or a possible ballot issue for that matter.

Wachtman: "I think we are seeing a lot of information coming from other states – Michigan, which I am most familiar with, that really does show that, at least the way they did it in Michigan, that marijuana is filtering into society causing a lot of other problems."

Most major law enforcement groups also remain opposed to the idea of allowing medical marijuana in Ohio. It looks like, if medical marijuana is to be allowed in Ohio at some point in the future, Ohio voters will have to be the ones to make that change. And before they can weigh in on the issue, backers of the plan will need to collect 385 thousand valid petition signatures to put the issue on the ballot. They hope to get enough signatures in the next 13 months to put the issue on the ballot in the fall of 2014.

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